summit size-up

Tisch: Consensus from Thursday summit should guide evaluation redesign

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
From right, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, Kathleen Cashin and Judith Chin in March.

Ahead of a high-profile summit aimed at helping the State Education Department finalize a new teacher evaluation system, Chancellor Merryl Tisch said she hoped the marathon event would lead to consensus.

“It’s time for everyone to stop yelling and casting aspersions,” Tisch said in an interview Wednesday.

“This has been so highly politicized and charged that sometimes it’s very difficult to have voices of reason be pervasive,” Tisch added. “We’d like to be a voice of reason.”

The event was made necessary by a law, passed last month, that will make sweeping changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system. That law ensures that state test scores will count for more of a teacher’s final rating, and requires teachers to be observed by an outside evaluator. Other details of the plan were left up to officials at the State Education Department, and the law requires the department to gather feedback from teachers, principals, and parents, as well as from education experts and researchers, as they make those decisions.

The event (which is invitation-only but can be viewed live online here) will provide state  officials with plenty of opinions. Accomplishing Tisch’s goal appears less likely, given the sharp ideological divides about the purpose of a teacher evaluation system and the  need for an overhaul — debates that have filled New York legislative chambers for  years — and a law that leaves officials without much flexibility.

By the time the eight-hour summit is over, the state’s 17-member education policymaking board will have heard from more than 30 people, representing nearly as many organizations, broken out into seven separate panels. If that’s not enough, the Regents could also pore over more than 600 pages worth of research, op-eds, and rebuttals to op-eds that have been posted to the department’s website in recent days.

Whether there will be much use for that feedback is also debatable. Especially when it comes to how student performance will be measured, the law is clear that state test scores must be the sole measure, and that those results will count for half of a teacher’s rating, though Tisch has said the 50 percent figure is just one interpretation.

Powerful education advocacy organizations say the event remains a chance to influence a debate that has only become more important, three years after a new evaluation system was introduced throughout New York (except New York City, which adopted a new evaluation system in 2012).

Robert Lowry, who will testify on behalf of the state’s school superintendents, said the new law was “incredibly flawed, and there’s a great risk of making the evaluation system worse.”

Lowry said he believed there were two main areas in which state officials could improve the evaluation system. First, the state could guarantee that a principal’s observations of a teacher count for more than those of an independent evaluator, he said. Nearly 70 percent of superintendents statewide said the principal observation process was having a positive impact on improving teacher quality, according to a survey conducted last summer.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña has echoed that point repeatedly, saying outside observers would not only be a burden on the city but also a unhelpful to teachers.

Second, Lowry said that he hoped the department would figure out a way to give districts more time to introduce the new evaluations. The state law requires districts to negotiate a plan with their local unions by Nov. 15, and Lowry said the deadline, which is tied to a state funding increase, could complicate negotiations.

If the state can’t extend the deadline, officials should develop a “default” evaluation system for districts that can’t negotiate their own plans, Lowry said, a proposal that the association representing the state’s school boards said it would also support.

The event comes just days after a bipartisan education bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan and Senator John Flanagan, who chair the education committees in their respective houses. The proposed law, which features changes to state testing and Regents appointment policies, would extend the implementation deadline by a month, from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15, and reaffirm that certain demographic information would be included in the complicated formulas that the state uses to calculate student growth for teacher evaluations.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew will be appearing at the event as well. The city teachers union wants the state to do away with any measurements of student learning that rate teachers of non-tested subjects, such as art and physical education, based on test scores of students they don’t teach.

Tisch said she expects the role of the independent evaluator to receive a lot of scrutiny Thursday, noting that they will be a costly logistical headache for districts. Ultimately, Tisch said, she is looking for proposals that are not too extreme.

“It’s the porridge scenario,” Tisch said. “Is it too hot, is it too cold or is it just right?”

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The state’s year-round scramble to fill teaching jobs

Miss Michigan Heather Heather Kendrick spent the day with students at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science in Detroit

While much of the media attention has been focused this year on the severe teacher shortage in the main Detroit district, our story this week looks at how district and charter schools throughout the region are now scrambling year-round to fill vacant teaching jobs — an instability driven by liberal school choice laws, a decentralized school system and a shrinking pool of available teachers.

The teacher shortage has also made it difficult for schools to find substitutes as many are filling in on long-term assignments while schools try to fill vacancies. Two bills proposed in a state senate committee would make it easier for schools to hire retirees and reduce the requirements for certifying subs.  

Also, don’t forget to reserve your seat for Wednesday’s State of the Schools address. The event will be one of the first times in recent years when the leader of the city’s main district — Nikolai Vitti — will appear on the same stage as the leaders of the city’s two largest charter school authorizers. For those who can’t make it, we will carry it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

Have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The State of the Schools address will pair Vitti with the leaders of the schools he’s publicly vowed to put out of business, even as schools advocates say city kids could benefit if the leaders of the city’s fractured school system worked together to solve common problems.

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: The city’s teacher shortage mirrors similar challenges across the country but the problem in Detroit is exacerbated by liberal school choice policies that have forced schools to compete with each other for students and teachers.

Hiring efforts continue at Detroit’s main school district, which is planning another job fair. Head Start centers are also looking for teachers. Three new teachers talk about the challenges, rewards and obstacles of the classroom.

WHOSE MONEY IS IT? The state Senate sent a bill to the House that would allow charters to receive a portion of property tax hikes approved by voters. Those funds have historically gone only to traditional district schools.

UNITED THEY STAND: Teachers in this southwest Detroit charter school voted to join a union, but nationally, union membership for teachers has been falling for two decades.

COLLEGE AND CAREERS: A national foundation based in Michigan granted $450,000 to a major Detroit business coalition to help more students finish college.

High school seniors across the state will be encouraged to apply to at least one college this month. The main Detroit district meanwhile showed off a technical center that prepares youngsters and adults for careers in construction, plumbing and carpentry and other fields.  

STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT: A prominent news publisher explains why he told lawmakers he believes eliminating the state board of education is the right thing to do. An advocate urged Michigan to look to other states for K-12 solutions. And one local newspaper says the governor is on the right track to improving education in Michigan.

This think tank believes businesses should be more engaged in education debates.

LISTEN TO US: The newly elected president of a state teachers union says teachers just want to be heard when policy is being made. She wrote in a Detroit newspaper that it takes passion and determination to succeed in today’s classrooms.

A PIONEER: Funeral services for a trailblazing African American educator have been scheduled for Saturday.

Also, the mother-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died in her west Michigan home.

FARM-TO-SCHOOL:  A state program that provides extra money to school districts for locally grown produce has expanded to include more schools.

BETTER THAN AN APPLE: Nominate your favorite educator for Michigan Teacher of the Year before the 11:59 deadline tonight.

An Ann Arbor schools leader has been named the 2018 Michigan Superintendent of the Year by a state group of school administrators.

MYSTERY SMELL: The odor from a failed light bulb forced a Detroit high school to dismiss students early this week.

EXTRA CREDIT: Miss Michigan encouraged students at one Detroit school to consider the arts as they follow their dreams. The city schools foundation honored two philanthropic leaders as champions for education.

And high school students were inspired by a former college football player. 

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.